Amidst the rush of universities announcing their fee levels over the last two weeks, Imperial College surprised many by bucking trend of elite institutions charging £9,000, and announcing that their tuition would be free of charge for new entrants in 2012.
Imperial Rector Sir Kieth O’Nions said in a passionate address to staff that “future Imperial students deserved one of the finest educational experiences in the world…price cannot be barrier to success”.
A further statement from the College explains that this free tuition scheme for all students will be funded by the massive stockpile of reserves that have been built up over the past 100 years from endowments, commercial interests and private sector income that will now be directed to sustain the “Imperial Family.”
NUS President Aaron Porter this week praised Imperial for their “brave” move. He said that “Imperial’s innovative pricing structure will force the rest of the sector to think again about their own fee levels.” He sounded a note of caution however by claiming that “some students could be attracted to Imperial for their zero cost fees, but could arrive to find that the courses on offer were actually really boring.”
Universities Minister David Willetts backed Imperial’s move as a “selfless act that future generations will thank them for” and promised that the forthcoming HE white paper would include tax incentives that will encourage “other excellent universities” to follow suit.
Sir Keith’s address also included hints that a wholesale review of Imperial’s curriculum would be conducted over the summer with the aim of ensuring that all provision met an important new “sustainability measure”. Said to be rocked by the recent events in Fukushima, a source close to the Rector said that “he will be looking very seriously at any teaching or research that continues the development of nuclear science.”
The move to lower fees down to zero was condemned last night in a unanimous vote of an Imperial College Union meeting. Union President Alex Kendall, in a fiery address, promised a “new wave of occupations and direct action” until Sir Keith agreed to charge the maximum £9,000 fees. Speaking to Wonkhe later, he told us that these actions were “imperative” in order to “protect the reputation of the College and its students.”
A Russell Group spokeswoman declined to comment on the announcement.